chapter  1
A detour via the nineteenth century: historical issues at stake
Pages 12

It seems logical that an object with a history should owe at least part of its existence to its social conditions. When it comes to addressing mental illness, the historical method has often seemed to be the social sciences’ tool par excellence, to some extent a reflex reaction to the question ‘What can social science say about mental illness?’ While debates surrounding the notion of the ‘historical and social construction of illnesses’ do draw attention to the possible limitations, deviations and misconceptions of this issue,1 they have nonetheless contributed to underscoring the value of historical contextualization: the benefits of looking at how, at a given place and time, it was possible for a diagnosis to be established (or invented, manufactured or discovered, depending on how provocative one wishes to be).